May 04, 2005

The Aims of the Grey Abbey Conservation Project

What we're all about!

The Grey Abbey of Franciscan Friars was established around 1260 by William De Vesci but was to thrive under the patronage of the Fitzgeralds, Lords of Offaly and Earls of Kildare. The Fitzgeralds were, for centuries, the strongest and most powerful family in Ireland and their attachment to the town and manor of Kildare is demonstrated by the internment of at least nine Earls at Kildare. Four of those, including the first three Fitzgeralds to enjoy the title of Earl of Kildare, were buried at Grey Abbey.

Apart from the traditional benefits to the town and outlying areas that can be associated with the establishment of an Order of Friars, the Grey Abbey was also famous as a place of learning. Some of the earliest poems written in the English language in Ireland are attributed to a Friar Michael of Kildare and were supposedly written at Grey Abbey, possibly as early as 1308-1315. The manuscript is now housed in the British Library. An other famous Franciscan, Brother Michael Cleary, one of the compilers of the Four Masters, transcribed poems at Grey Abbey in 1627.

The Abbey is an important part of the history of the town of Kildare but is sadly in a state of ruin. It is a protected monument and is included in the zone of protection which encompasses the medieval walled town of Kildare which is clearly indicated on the 6 inch SMR Map, sheet 22. The walls which now enclose the Abbey and graveyard are clearly within the area of protection. However archaeological reports, including ‘The Urban Archaeological Survey,’ by John Bradley et. al. clearly establish the remains of claustral foundations outside the south wall in the adjoining field. Articles in the Kildare Archaeological Journal and references in other sources establish provenance for a much larger community attached to the original friary. In the 1992, Environmental Impact Study for the then proposed Kildare Town By-Pass, the County Architect, Niall Meagher indicated that “the environmental area of the Abbey site requiring protection does extend to the boundary suggested in the Urban Archaeological Survey.” The concerns for The Grey Abbey Conservation Project therefore focus on ‘Grey Abbey’ in its broadest possible sense.

The aims of the Project must take into account the ruinous state of the Abbey itself and the urgent need for archaeological investigation. Regardless of the prohibitive cost and the probable long-term nature attached to any such conservation project, a Plan of Action must be formulated by the Project Committee to present the aims of the Project to Government Departments, State Agencies, Kildare Local Authorities and all other interested parties including private enterprise. The intention being to source funding, raise the profile of the project and galvanise support for the conservation of Grey Abbey ‘to make a positive contribution to the presentation of the historic town of Kildare and act as an amenity both for the people of the town and its visitors,’ (Mount 1992).

Posted by mariocorrigan at 04:45 PM